The Product Roadmap – a Perfect Tool to Drive Operational Excellence

The Product Roadmap – a Perfect Tool to Drive Operational Excellence

Product roadmaps are excellent tools for board members - Spark Group

The product roadmap and its contents give a board the possibility to verify the ability to deliver on a plan, manage future ambition levels and promote strategic cooperation inside the company. Many board members experience great results!

A product roadmap is essentially the specific, visualized and committed high-level plan for the product’s future, with concrete deliverables and timing stretching 2-5 years ahead. Producing regular updates of the roadmap normally requires a well-founded strategic outlook in areas such as market position, target segments and technology.

Three ways to use product roadmaps

Roadmaps play two obvious and one not so obvious role for a company:

  1. The internal role is to align and create a “shared plan” for all functions within the company. The recurring activities of developing and maintaining/updating the roadmap builds good internal cooperation and decision-making, increasing operational efficiency.
  2. The external role is simply to show a clear product plan for customers (both existing and potential). The external roadmap will generate trust with buyers and unnerve competitors.
  3. The third – and from a board/owner perspective – highly relevant application, is to use product roadmaps as the “indicator” of company operational excellence and demonstrate how future products will be successful. Product roadmaps can be used for gauging ability to deliver on plan, manage future ambition levels and for generating strategic cooperation inside the Company.

The reason why roadmaps are so useful to boards is that their development requires significant internal cooperation. Good strategic insights are required to produce and deliver on roadmaps. When regularly reviewed they can demonstrate a carefully considered and robust future, which is only possible if good strategy and cooperation are already in place within the company.

Benefits to the board of an excellent product roadmap

When a product roadmap is concrete, clear and realistic it signals to the board that there is a sound operational company behind it. Company positioning, sales activities and market communications all align with the roadmap. The roadmap is supported by all company functions.

Roadmaps also promote and strengthen cross-company cooperation. The course over time is steady, all functions contribute well, and efficiency is high. For the board and owners, it is easy to discuss issues such as time to revenue and product intentions in general (without plowing through the granular detail of an entire Product Strategy document).

The roadmap as early warning system

Board members and owners can receive advance notice of problems when they see that product roadmaps are changing every quarter or so. Negative surprises, late additions and setbacks/non-delivery are all indicators that there could be operational issues that need to be dealt with.

When scratching the surface of the roadmap (and asking the right questions), what often appears are unclear choices, poor decision-making, and ill-prepared content. Commitments are withdrawn, finger-pointing easily happens, and the company frequently has to “go back to the drawing board”.

Unrealistic timelines should also give cause for concern – targets that look overly ambitious are an indicator that the author(s) are focused on the end goal, without fully considering the practical steps required to get there.

The roadmap sum-up

So, product roadmaps are not just roadmaps, they are the perfect tools for boards to impact company operations in a positive direction.

So next time, before the board meeting, ask for a walk-through!

Set aside the time – a roadmap is, after all, perhaps your best overall indicator of well-working machinery within the company.  Specific roadmap topics that can be pre-determined might include:

  • Time to revenue and growth
  • Enabling dialog on product vision and capacity
  • Discussing product “edge”/innovation
  • Follow up on delivery and realization of roadmap

A great product roadmap is an invaluable tool that provides clear, actionable insights into your chances for future success.

Thomas Johansson is a product specialist at Spark group

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